Nikki MacCallum’s ‘Dry Run’ is a Must-Listen Memoir Podcast
By Matt Levy
After every race, author, actor, and comedian Nikki MacCallum’s dad would ask, “What was your time?”
For the record, her father ran the Boston Marathon in 2:48 which Nikki accurately deemed “borderline Olympic speed.” Her fastest run? Hours slower. So, she’d tell him her time, and he’d always respond the same way saying, “Good stuff! Go faster next time.”
It was this sweetly paternal relationship that inspired Nikki to write her moving, funny memoir Dry Run, released by Auctus Publishers in 2019.
For a bit of background, MacCallum’s speedy father ran 32 marathons while also battling alcoholism. Nikki ran her first in 2011 as a Hail Mary pass to him after he experienced a near-death relapse.
The memoir, covered by CBS here, spans 26.2 chapters each representing a mile of that marathon and compares the challenges of marathoning to the struggles of alcohol addiction.
Realizing that this important story had the potential to be more immersive, Nikki released a 26.2 part, 10.5-hour podcast version that effectively turns every single character in the book into a living, breathing human being listeners can connect with and hear Boston accents and all.
The audio memoir was released on Spotify and Apple Podcasts on Aug.18th, 2021 by Tony Award-winning Lambo Productions, LLC, and while it’s narrated by Nikki, also features a cast of 50 additional voice actors.
Still, for Nikki, the best part of the entire Dry Run process was when she went to her father asking for permission to publish. He said, “If this book helps one person, then I’m all for it.”
This was particularly important because alcohol addiction carries such a connotation of shame as evidenced by the anonymity support groups honor. Thus, Nikki did not take her father’s blessing lightly. She’s gotten a number of messages since the book came out from people from her past, or readers who found Dry Run about how her family’s story made them feel less alone. Every time, Nikki gets a message like that, it’s one tally she adds to the list knowing she’s done right by her dad.
She’s carried this on into her work with New York City’s Coalition for the Homeless’ First Step Program, a 12-week job training program for underprivileged women looking to enter the workforce, where Nikki teaches workshops on networking and handling and maximizing rejection. Many of her students came forth about their own struggles with addiction. So, she gave free copies of Dry Run to anyone at the Coalition who requested one, but it also reminded her that there’s a whole audience dealing with addiction that may not have the means to purchase a book but will listen to a free download. This revelation that she could make her story more accessible was a major inspiration to adapt Dry Run into a new medium that’s readily available to all.
She’s also grateful to her dad for setting such a low bar — as Nikki pointed out, “we only had to help one person!” — in terms of how he defined success for Dry Run. She wishes he was alive to see just how many people his story touched. For the record, he was seven years sober when he died.
It should be noted that Nikki’s mother also deserves a lion’s share of the credit as well for the story because making material this personal public is not easy. Yet, Mrs. MacCallum, a passionate anti-alcoholism advocate, didn’t bat an eyelash when her daughter asked for permission to publish. She said, “I’ve always told Nikki her very special gift is her ability to make people laugh and turn heartbreak into humor. So, when she put many voices to the characters, the story was now complete and I was able to laugh at all our foibles, (hers, mine, and her Dads). I was also happy that she seemed to like me more at the end.”
Adding levity to the situation, Nikki quipped, “She went to a lot of therapy and at one point sold fifteen copies to her therapist. A win-win!”
How to make a podcast featuring 51 voice actors
In order to bring the sprawling audio narrative to life, Nikki enlisted the help of Tessa Faye and her casting associate, Sarah Faye Beard. The three worked together to bring an impressive roster of talent including Patrick McCartney (Elf, Anchorman), Dina Laura (God Friended Me), Anne Nathan (It Shoulda Been You), and Joel Waggoner (Be More Chill) as leads, as well as many other Broadway and television stars including Sophie Sumner, Charlie Clive, Kelvin Moon Loh, Matt DeAngelis, Cooper Grodin, Justin Gentry, Jon Sandler, Rachel Lenihan, Matthew Corozine, Brooke Chaffee, Michael Cassara, Matt Vita, and more. Playing the part of young Nikki was Ryley Mosier; Evangeline Rawhouser portrayed pre-teen Nikki. That’s how much detail went into this project. There’s a young Nikki AND a pre-teen Nikki.
Best of all, several cast members are in recovery which gives the audio a beating heart.
Since all of the audio was recorded at the height of the pandemic, each actor had a remote at-home mic set up. There were a few Zoom rehearsals for the larger roles but for the most part, actors sent her two to ten takes of each line, and Nikki listened to every single one carefully choosing the interpretations of her words that told the story best. As one might expect, completing a podcast about a marathon is a marathon of a job in and of itself.
Nikki laughed, “I often forget I narrated this book because I was so wrapped up in the product as a whole sorting through the different takes of everyone’s lines.”
Once the voice recording was complete, Nikki collaborated with composer Brandon James Gwinn on the music. The two met a decade ago when he wrote the music and lyrics to Matchmaker Matchmaker, I’m Willing to Settle!, Nikki’s original musical about internet dating (before it was a thing!) she wrote with Kelvin Moon Loh.
Brandon immediately brought innovative ideas to the project suggesting Nikki use her running footsteps as percussion to drive the music forward. It sounds great on paper but to make it come to life, Nikki had the painful task of running at different speeds on different surfaces with a mic taped to her leg in the freezing cold.
It was all worth it though. Upon hearing Brandon’s music for the first time, she cried because the melody was melancholy but also hopeful which was exactly the tone her story needed.
Another critical collaborator was Emily Crain, Dry Run’s audio editor, and engineer. By using sound, the two “triggered emotions that are so much more impactful than reading words off a page.” Nikki and Emily would bring scenes to life by adding something as simple as a police siren to underscore the drama and in turn elevate the story to an emotional place that was missing in the text.
What’s Next for Nikki?
The dream for Dry Run is to have it adapted once again, this time into a feature film or mini-series. When Nikki first met audio producer David Lambert, he suggested they bypass the podcast and turn the story into a film right then and there. Nikki believes that’s a much longer-term goal but at the time is so grateful to have this audio as a stepping stone.
The multi-talented MacCallum also just wrapped a role in her first feature film, Killington, a darkly comedic thriller produced by Gnar Bois and written by Grace Day and Matt Vita which is currently in post-production. She’s also set to play a supporting role in RETREAT!, a feature-length mockumentary written by Grace Day and Joe Boyce that shoots this November. When asked about the script, Nikki gushed about how funny it was saying she “quite literally peed my pants when I read it.”
On top of that, Nikki completed the Chicago Marathon on Oct. 10 during which she also quite literally peed her pants. Truly, for someone as hardworking as her, there are no days off.
Still, it’s all thanks to her dad, who inspired her to say to herself “good stuff, go faster next time,” a mantra she repeats after every comedy set, audition, and performance.
Unless it’s really bad. Then, she scream-cries into a box of Kraft Mac and Cheese, “I’m quitting! But also, go faster next time.”